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UPMC Braddock closure plan upsets Allegheny County Council

| Friday, Nov. 6, 2009

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is putting profits ahead of people, said members of Allegheny County Council who are upset with plans to close the hospital in Braddock.

"It also seems arbitrary because it seems to be more about profit than health," said Councilman Jim Burn at Thursday's meeting of the council's Committee on Government Reform.

The meeting allowed council members to vent their frustration, but they have little control over the nonprofit health care giant.

On Jan. 31, UPMC will close the Braddock hospital because of low occupancy of medical-surgical beds, a shrinking service area, difficulty recruiting doctors and the recession.

Cynthia M. Dorundo, president of UPMC Braddock, said its service area has decreased from 50,000 people to 44,000 since the system bought the hospital in 1997. In addition, four of five residents in the area seek medical care elsewhere.

As a result, the hospital has lost $7.5 million in fiscal 2009.

"A corporation your size should be up to the challenge," Council Vice President Charles Martoni insisted.

"Aren't you in Sicily and Ireland?" he asked, citing the system's facilities abroad. "Maybe we should be looking at closing Sicily instead of Braddock."

A major concern among council members is the fate of the hospital's 652 employees.

"We're going to attempt to find jobs for all of them," said Bob Kennedy, UPMC's vice president for government relations.

Another concern is how the health care needs of residents will be met after the hospital closes.

UPMC officials said it will continue its outreach efforts there and encourage Braddock Primary Health Services to expand its hours.

Council members raised questions about the potential use of the property.

Kennedy said the Woodland Hills School District has expressed interest in the site.

"That's news to me," said Robert J. Tomasic, a school board member in Woodland Hills. "We can't afford too much of anything."

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